First Light Games takes on the problem of making NFT video games mainstream


Interview: Anil Das-Gupta talks about neighborhood, scammers and web3 adoption

Today we interview Anil Das-Gupta, the co-founder of First Light Games, who is on a mission to convey blockchain games to the world through innovative cell gaming experiences.

The group has a powerful pedigree. First Light Games was co-founded by Das-Gupta (who has labored on games like Street Fighter 4 and Resident Evil 5) and Neil McFarland (the business legend and former director at Monument Valley creators ustwo). Their mission? “We’re trying to bring web3 to the plenty by way of video games, and particularly, we’ve made a cell sport known as Blast Royale.”

Das-Gupta was a panellist at our convention in January in London. You can watch that panel right here to see specialists focus on the transition from web2 to web3:

January’s PG Connects London featured talks and panels from web3 experts.

We loved listening to Das-Gupta’s feedback and analysis on blockchain gaming, so we invited him for a follow-up conversation. In this chat, he talks concerning the worldwide alternatives of web3, the advantages of ownership, the challenges of getting individuals to undertake it, and the threats of scammers and cheats.

Please tell us slightly about your organization and recreation.

Anil Das-Gupta: A lot of us in the team were early in free-to-play gaming and noticed what a paradigm shift that created. I nonetheless feel that the UK really missed the boat on that. We thought it’s excessive time that some people in the UK went for this possible new shift with web3 and crypto, and that’s what we’re trying to do, and to make sense of that.

Blast Royale is a battle royale with NFTs. Our sport is a little bit of a deck builder, slightly like Magic: The Gathering or Hearthstone, where you’re building a deck, and that’s the place your NFTs are. When you come into the sport, that construct will appear, and also you go looting. So there’s like a competitive metagame there.

We don’t need the game to be pay-to-win. That’s really important. But we want the NFTs to have some worth, bragging rights and ownership.

We started as a free-to-play video games firm a few years in the past. Many of us were profitable in that house at earlier companies. It’s hard for lighting to strike twice. As the business consolidates, it gets tougher and harder. And so we felt that this can be a much greater blue ocean to go for. That’s what really interested us in going into this area.

Getting an NFT game onto the app shops felt like a little bit of a wrestle at first, however you’ve carried out it. Was that the biggest problem when it got here to launching the game?

I wouldn’t say it was the most important problem, however it’s a challenge because you can’t do it in the way in which that you just want to. It’s extraordinarily restrictive and, frankly, anti-competitive. But these are the rules that we’ve to play for. Our attitude is: it’s going to be a really fluid scenario. Free-to-play developed so much from day one to where it’s received to as of at present. And we expect it to be even wilder than that with crypto.

So, to begin with, we actually prioritised just getting the game to market as soon as potential. So, actually, our biggest problem was the fundraising. And then, from the fundraising, turning that into building a staff. And then using that team to build a product. And to get all of that into the market amidst a type of world recession and meltdown in crypto.

I suppose those were larger challenges! We didn’t have any blockchain experience before, so we had to be taught that on the way. Luckily, it wasn’t as unhealthy as we thought, however it definitely was not an inconsiderable amount of talent and information that needed to be acquired by the group.

Another challenge blockchain video games have is changing traditional “web2” gamers to select up a web3 sport. There’s a pushback from traditional avid gamers. Why do you think there’s such resistance from traditional gamers to experiment with games like this?

It’s the entire PR round crypto. [The industry] hasn’t done a great job.

I have to say: it’s the identical for me! I dabbled in it a little bit up to now, but by no means got into it too significantly. Someone on the group advised we make a crypto game. At first, I laughed at them and thought, “Why on earth would you wish to do that?!”

It’s solely after we noticed the revenue potential of Axie Infinity that we thought, “OK, that is severe. If that can happen…!” I don’t suppose anybody has fully labored it out but, however that reveals that there’s undoubtedly something that’s worth exploring, compared to the solved playbook that was common cell free-to-play.”

If you take a glance at it normally within the industry, NFTs and crypto have a foul rep. And to be trustworthy with you, I would say that’s proper if you have a look at the type of behaviour of a lot of people! That’s truthful sufficient.

What are the problems that want addressing?

There are two massive issues. Issue primary is just the entire “how do you even go and use it?” Setting up a MetaMask pockets and then filing transactions. It’s troublesome. I wouldn’t say it’s as onerous as it’s made out to be, but it’s actually alien, and it might be scary. I assume that’s a big barrier. But I do really feel that that barrier can be crossed as lengthy as you’ve obtained a robust product.

When we actually began growing this recreation, I personally obtained scammed and lost two ETH!

The other side of it in the intervening time is that given the dangerous rep, it’s type of cool to hate on NFTs right now, and that’s why we’ve seen resistance. That has been seen so many instances throughout so many games. When mobile video games first got here out, everybody was like, “No, mobile video games are for losers. No one’s ever going to play them.” Now it’s the largest sector on the planet. “Free-to-play? No one’s going to play free-to-play.” Also, that business model was proven.

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So it all comes right down to the content material. How did cell begin appealing? It was because folks labored out that you must make video games another way. Monument Valley is a good example, and Candy Crush and Clash of Clans giving folks bite-sized gaming classes.

As soon as you start having a quantity of actually robust titles then the the rest of it’ll start to unlock

Anil Das-Gupta

I labored on a Resident Evil recreation for mobile. It turns out that taking a console title and porting it directly to cell isn’t a successful formula. You have to rethink the gameplay.

Free-to-play to might sound unhealthy on paper, however actually, should you can play all these games free of charge and they’re high quality, then it seems that when you’ve performed this recreation for a short time, you’re going to be more likely to monetise, as a outcome of you’ve realised the value it’s given to you.

I think all of this stuff could be solved. It’s early days. People say there’s a big pushback, however is there? I think the fact is, there’s hardly anything to get excited for. As soon as you start having a few actually robust titles which might be good and that you can play, and also you simply assume they’re fun anyway – then the relaxation of it’s going to begin to unlock. I don’t assume it is going to be immediate, however I do assume it’s going to happen sooner or later as a result of there are a thousand blockchain games in improvement, if not more.

We got into the space as a outcome of it’s a marathon and never a spring. And learning this is actually important.

Look at Pokémon Go. There were always location games. It wasn’t even Niantic’s first recreation. But there was simply something about Pokémon Go that caught people’s creativeness. Are we similarly just waiting for a web3 game that lights that touchpaper, and all of a sudden everyone will say, “Now I’ve got to get into this!”?

I assume it’s going to come. I don’t know when it will come. I hope it’s our game! But that is what’s needed.

Pokémon Go is a extremely good instance because I will actually nonetheless say that the game’s not notably good. But the fantasy of it…! I bear in mind in London; it was mental. I went into St James’ Park and heard somebody shout, “There’s a Charizard over there!” and noticed 100 grown men and women operating into the house. And I was like, “OK, well, if ever you needed to see the ability of video games, that is it right there. I’ve by no means seen that before.”

It’s all about getting the proper mixture of things. It’s already been confirmed to a point with Axie Infinity. Sure, it went chilly after some time, but the reality it did a billion in income in only one quarter, exhibits that there was something very definitely there for what was a substandard recreation. So there’s something there that needs to be utilized elsewhere, and it will work.

We are ready for the touchpaper to be lit. How lengthy that’s going to take? I don’t know. In the background of this, we now have a global recession. That does make a difference. It’s why most AAA developers aren’t going to be pumping out the progressive hits proper now. You’ve even seen earnings calls where we’re seeing [big companies] return to familiar franchises, and so they don’t want to take a danger, given that pocket money is far much less at the moment.

But all these items are momentary, and it’ll finally come out in the wash, and kind itself out.

With blockchain adoption, is geography a factor? It appears already extra in style in Asia.

There are massive variations. People in Asia don’t really worry about it. They’ll play the sport. They’re starting to get more acquainted with it. Their primary motivation does are usually on the potential incomes aspect, which is why they will play. But as a outcome of so many did play, it means they’ve already gotten by way of that section of studying the means it even works. So they’re quite much more educated.

In web3 video games, generally, what individuals need to get their head round is that, principally, you’re building your personal inventory change into a game. That’s actually the way to assume about it. The Stock Exchange itself is a reasonably popular “game”: the concept of this recreation is to make extra cash than you begin with, and hundreds of thousands of individuals play it every single day.

What we’re seeing is that you just get different varieties of individuals who work together with the sport in completely other ways. There are individuals who we call speculators who won’t don’t actually play the sport, however they may buy the belongings. They might spend 10x more income than an actual player would do, however they’re not going to play the sport. Players will play the game, and they’ll spend a little amount of cash to get the kind of gadgets they wish to max it. But they don’t have the sort of deep pockets required to actually go hard on the other finish.

We’ve educated our group that scams are something you’ve got to watch out of

Anil Das-Gupta

But this is still a great factor as a outcome of, in the end, free-to-play is all about this: how a lot does it value to usher in gamers, and how much do you monetise from it? If that net means that you have extra revenue coming into your ecosystem, and if the web implies that it’s cheaper to get gamers as a result of folks are available to drive up the worth of their asset – then when you boil it down, on paper it ought to imply that it’s attainable to make such video games successful. You’re going to have extra levers you could pull in comparison with a regular title and fewer competitors to do it.

That’s what we now have observed so far. I suppose it will work, but will it work at scale? We have to show that ourselves. We’ve made the game. You need to have the fundamentals: how good is the retention on your game? How many features does it have? How sticky is it? No one has but made a sport as deep as a few of these cellular titles that have been around for 3 or 4 years. It takes quite a little bit of time to construct up all of that sophistication. But it’ll come.

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There are some bad actors on this area that haven’t helped the PR for web3. You stated that you simply were scammed early on. How did that happen?

Well, these are two separate things, but they are considerably related. There was a scam venture called Burst Royale. They copied everything from our title, including staff footage and so forth. They have a Twitter account where they’ve carried out every little thing that we’ve done, but they’ve simply modified the logo!

That’s not to do with blockchain so much as precise passing-off, isn’t it?

Here’s where it gets really devious. You can go to [the Burst Royale website], and you’ll really obtain a game to play in your PC, which is unimaginable as a end result of we don’t have a PC version of Blast Royale. If you were to download their piece of malware, what it’ll truly do is it will really steal the contents of your pockets and transfer it to a different net tackle. That’s what they had been attempting to do with folks, and they’re utilizing our good name.

The method I got personally scammed was somewhat similar to that. Unfortunately, there are some mint websites that, when you signal the details, they’ll very often say, “Go right here, and you’ll be succesful of mint one thing at no cost.” And it’ll be a high-value item, and you’ll assume, “Oh, wow, I really want to do this.” But what it will do instead, when you sign the sensible contract, is it’ll really move things out of your pockets. I misplaced two ETH and some NFTs and stuff that I’d purchased, not figuring out this, while making an attempt to say this offer.

We’ve since educated our staff that it’s one thing you’ve got to be careful of. But it’s going to be a big concern. Because we’ve seen it already with some folks in our community who have been hacked or they’ve misplaced their objects. You need to elucidate to them that, unlike a regular game, it’s not a case the place they will simply say, “Please e-mail me my forgotten password so I can reset it.” Once an item’s gone, it’s gone forever. And it’s not ours, both. That is the whole level of web3. There are execs and cons to that. It’s highly effective, however it’s so powerful as a result of there’s such little security around it in the meanwhile.

One thing web3 brings to gaming that you simply couldn’t do earlier than is that idea of possession. With something like a collectable card deck, you’re constructing something in which gamers feel they’ve some kind of possession, right?

Yes and no. I assume that’s the factor that most individuals in the trade use, however I don’t suppose that’s a robust enough motivator to really make folks wish to play the game. Because if that have been the case, then why are individuals playing the digital version of Magic quite than the bodily one – right? One you own, and one you don’t.

What I really feel, although, that the actual advantage of web3 is, is actually the facet of neighborhood building and being rewarded for being in one thing early.

Magic: The Gathering in actual life is an effective instance of this. I don’t know if you understand the history of that game, but that game debuted at Gen Con in America, which is a large nerd convention. At that convention, they bought the first set that came out of beta. Those playing cards utterly sold out. It was the talk of the town: “There’s this superb new sport you must play.” And those gadgets, then, from that convention, are the ones which might be value the most quantity by method of money… although you cannot actually use these cards in an actual, competitive tournament now.

But what’s attention-grabbing is that cool story when you backed it early. I bear in mind I was introduced to it by a boy in school who was like, “Oh, wow, have you played this game? It’s actually cool.” And two weeks later, each single kid had a starter pack, they usually were all enjoying together. You weren’t cool except you had been enjoying this game.

Now video games are starting to really consolidate. Look at the Activision and Microsoft deal. When deals like which might be being accomplished, it means issues are starting to get sewn up. It’s a bit just like the movie business, where it’s gone down to 5 main studios.

The greatest thing is this sense of community… Performance advertising is dead for cell.

Anil Das-Gupta

If you’re an govt who works at one of many top corporations like EA, and you’ve received to log out on a $40 million improvement price range, are you going to log off something progressive, or are you going to sign off the subsequent Battlefield or whatever? I know what I would do as a end result of it might be my job, and the job could be to ensure the company makes cash.

Now, what I’m saying is: if you’re doing an earlier strategy, you can take a look at the product market a bit earlier. And should you start seeing that your game gets traction because individuals are fascinated within the concept, it may give you more validation that there’s one thing that’s worth pursuing there. It’s almost like a Kickstarter-plus-plus. And there are some other advantages. I actually have a sense that that will be the method new firms make huge dividends in the subsequent couple of years.

Does that work at scale, though? If you would possibly be an Electronic Arts, is that going to make you want to make a game that way? Maybe not. But then possibly they could see a sport that’s already profitable and put their model on it. So perhaps you will notice Battlefield Blockchain, which might be like Blast Royale, however they’ve taken everything we’ve discovered however put on their own factor.

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We’ve seen that the most important factor is this sense of group and ownership that drives viral progress, and that may mean your acquisition prices can go to zero should you do it correctly. And that’s large. That means there’s a new means. Performance advertising is the elephant within the room. It’s lifeless for cellular. So if there’s a completely new means that you are in a position to do it, and make video games profitable out of it, then that’s the real win. And whoever figures that out is basically going to hit the big time on it. And that’s the extra exciting part of it.

Last 12 months, everything was about “the metaverse”. Now the hype cycle appears to have moved on and everyone’s talking about AI. What’s your perception of the panorama at the moment? Have plenty of the buyers who were following web3 gone on to invest in AI merchandise or something else now?

Firstly, I would say that gaming, normally, is extremely hard to lift financing for. So I don’t think it’s simply relevant to one space. For example, even simply the regular free-to-play video games, you’re not going to get cash. You’re not going to get cash if you’re just a web3 metaverse challenge proper now. It’s just extremely difficult. People don’t need to deploy their capital. I’ve not seen caution like this for a really long time.

I think the last time I can bear in mind this being like this is that after Supercell was acquired, there was a little bit of a gold rush when everyone was backing free-to-play studios. People obtained burned within the two years following. And then VCs had been very reluctant to type of begin placing capital in.

We based our company in 2018, and I’d say it was around 2017 to 2018 that folks started wanting into it once more, saying, “Oh, yeah, it may possibly work. You simply need to do issues a special way.” So I positively have that type of feeling with issues now.

I have seen that VCs are backing AI projects. Not specifically gaming initiatives but just AI in general. I assume that’s fair enough. ChatGPT is wonderful, and so forth and so forth. So I can see why they’d be excited. Because, to be honest with you, with lots of these items, they simply have a look at traction.

The cause why folks jumped into web3 so much was due to Axie Infinity. If a sport can do one billion in a quarter… There have been people that returned their complete fund inside two weeks off that sport. So, of course, they’re going to place much more bets on it!

With AI, you can argue the traction that’s already been generated has in all probability been bigger than blockchain when it comes to mass utilization. So I can see exactly why folks would invest in it.

Gaming generally is extremely onerous to lift financing for. I don’t think it’s simply relevant to one area

Anil Das-Gupta

I have seen a quantity of start-ups raise full seed rounds – and people start-ups are most likely to have extraordinarily competent teams. Some guy’s got ten years at a billion-dollar company, operating multiple video games – OK, these sort of groups will get their seed funding. Otherwise, I really feel it’s not good proper now, usually, and that’s just indicative of a worldwide house that’s very unsure. The proven fact that I paid £7.50 for a sizzling chocolate and croissant this morning on my method to work, and I thought, “What? Have I been mugged here?” It’s where we are.

Unfortunately, I suppose a lot of that has to resolve out, and there are going to be robust instances simply in gaming normally. It’s going to get worse earlier than it gets higher. Perhaps free-to-play will get a little bit of a renaissance with folks not as willing to spend a lot. That is possible. But if so, I still suppose they’ll go back to acquainted issues and usually are not prone to strive so much innovative stuff.

But you never know. Blockchain gaming mainly took place because of COVID. COVID meant that people couldn’t work, and people in the Philippines began enjoying this digital game because they may generate income as a outcome of they couldn’t work, after which growth. The world works in mysterious methods. It’ll be interesting to see what occurs subsequent.

Finally, what do we need to find out about Blast Royale? Is it out and in a position to play?

Anyone can play it proper now. It is in delicate launch, but folks can play it, and a lot of people have been attempting it out. That’s really the point of it: we wish to go as early as attainable as a end result of the sooner you’ve it out, the sooner you can learn and you can figure out how issues do.

The fascinating thing is that there’s additionally one thing called the Hub ( That is where you should buy NFTs, and they’ll work in the sport. That’s the facet that units it other than a daily sport, and you’ll see how it all works and interacts with each other.

It’s early days. I assume it will change so much over the following year. But it’s there, and it’s one thing for folks to do their analysis on right now.

Anil Das-Gupta interviewAnil Das-Gupta speaks with over Zoom in 2023.

You can discover out extra about First Light’s new mobile blockchain game on the official website. Our companion site covers mobile video games of all stripes day in and day trip. There’ll be a chance to explore both the blockchain and the cellular video games scenes, and AI, once more reside at PG Connects Seattle in May – tickets at the second are on sale at an early discounted value.


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